J Epidemiol Community Health 58:924-928 doi:10.1136/jech.2003.014068
  • Research report

Environmental perceptions and walking in English adults

  1. Charles Foster1,
  2. Melvyn Hillsdon2,
  3. Margaret Thorogood3
  1. 1BHF Health Promotion Research Group, Department of Public Health, Institute of Health Sciences, University of Oxford, UK
  2. 2Health Promotion Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK
  3. 3Division of Health in the Community, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mr C Foster
 University of Oxford, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK;
  • Accepted 26 January 2004


Study objective: To examine the relation between adults’ perceptions of the social and physical environment and their self reported walking behaviour.

Design: Cross sectional survey.

Setting: England.

Participants: A national sample of 4265 adults aged 16–74 years.

Main outcome measures: Self reported walking behaviour was categorised into two dichotomous variables: (a) any reported walking in past four weeks, (b) reported walking ⩾150 minutes per week in the past four weeks. Perceptions of the social environment covered safety of walking alone and social support for walking. Perceptions of the physical environment covered attractiveness of local area for walking, access to shops, leisure centres, parks, cycle paths, and traffic density.

Main results: In women, perceived safety of walking during the day (OR =  0.53; 95% CI: 0.31 to 0.88), and no shop within walking distance (OR = 0.72; 95% CI: 0.52 to 0.99) were associated with any reported walking occasions. Perceptions of the environment were not related to women walking ⩾150 min/week. In men, having a park within walking distance was associated with walking ⩾150 min/week (OR =  2.22; 95% CI: 1.18 to 4.35). No other significant associations were found.

Conclusions: Women seem to be more concerned about walking for utility and in safety. Men are more likely to walk ⩾150 min/week if they have access to a local park but their walking is not influenced by concerns about safety. Future research should focus on the relation between objective measures rather than perceptions of the environment and physical activity.


  • Funding: this research was funded by the British Heart Foundation.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.